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Film and Media Studies Program

Dr. Mark Minett's new book on filmmaker Robert Altman hot off the press.

Image of Robert Altman and the Elaboration of Hollywood Storytelling book cover. Cover fearures film strips.

Robert Altman and the Elaboration of Hollywood Storytelling reveals an Altman barely glimpsed in previous critical accounts of the filmmaker. This re-examination of his seminal work during the "Hollywood Renaissance" or “New Hollywood” period of the early 1970s (including M*A*S*H, Brewster McCloud, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Images, The Long Goodbye, Thieves Like Us, California Split, and Nashville) sheds new light on both the films and the filmmaker, reframing Altman as a complex, pragmatic innovator whose work exceeds, but is also grounded in, the norms of classical Hollywood storytelling rather than someone who rejected those norms in favor of modernist art cinema. Its findings and approach hold important implications for the study of cinematic authorship. Largely avoiding thematic exegesis, it employs an historical poetics approach, robust functionalist frameworks, archival research, and formal and statistical analysis to demystify the essential features of the standard account of Altman's filmmaking history and profile—lax narrative form, heavy reliance on the zoom, sound design replete with overlapping dialogue, improvisational infidelity to the screenplay, and a desire to subvert based in his time in the training grounds of industrial filmmaking and filmed television. The book provides a clear example of how a filmmaker might work collaboratively and pragmatically within and across media institutions to elaborate upon their sanctioned practices and aims. We misunderstand Altman's work, and the creative work of Hollywood filmmakers in general, when we insist on describing innovation as opposition to institutional norms and on describing those norms as simply assimilating innovation.
"Minett offers the most precise account we're likely to get of Robert Altman's unique contributions to the art of American moviemaking. Covering the broad extent of his career, including television work, Minett analyzes the achievement of this 'borderline' Hollywood filmmaker with sensitivity to the changing production contexts. While mounting original arguments, Minett revises, nuances, and challenges earlier work with persuasive arguments and careful documentation. This book is at once an in-depth study of a distinctive director and a revealing look at some unexpected cinematic horizons opened up by the New Hollywood." -- David Bordwell, Jacques Ledoux Emeritus Professor of Film, University of Wisconsin

"Minett's impressively extensive background research in Altman's technological and industrial options is combined with precise, perceptive analysis of some of the director's most popular films — all in clear, mercifully jargon-free prose. Tackling topics like Altman's fondness for zoom shots and dense, overlapping dialogue, Minett achieves a convincing account of the flexibility of the classical Hollywood cinema and the ingenuity with which Altman exploited that flexibility." -- Kristin Thompson, co-author of The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960

Robert Altman and the Elaboration of Hollywood Storytelling

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.